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Biking to Alaska

Archive for June, 2007

Day 11: Goodbye Yellowstone!

Posted by Alan on 30th June 2007

65.63 mi.

I got on the road fairly early, and traffic wasn’t too bad at first, but it just got worse as the day went on. I had been debating taking a detour through Yellowstone to see a bit more of it, but after seeing the traffic, I decided to get out of Yellowstone using the shortest route possible. I guess I should have planned better so as not to come through here on the weekend before the 4th of July.

IMG_0432I didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone except for the tourists. Maybe the animals were scared off by the sheer number of tourists just as I was. I did stop by Old Faithful and waited around making lunch until it erupted. It was pretty cool, but not as impressive as I had hoped.

IMG_0446After seeing Old Faithful, I hit the road again, but stopped at Middle Geyser Basin. All I could see from the road was steam rising from the pools of water, but the steam was blue and orange! I couldn’t pass that up. I walked around the little boardwalk they have to protect the fragile deposits and snapped some photos. It really is cool the way the steam picks up the color of the blue water and orange deposits (I think the orange is microorganisms). I hope my photos convey the beauty of this spot.

It was a windy day and on the way back to the parking lot I saw a foreign tourist lose his hat. It was blown to the edge of one of the big pools that had steam rising from it. I could tell he was about to go after his hat and as soon as he stepped off the boardwalk I yelled to stop him. I told him it was too dangerous, but really I just didn’t want to see him damage the fragile ground. I was surprised there were no park rangers in the area to watch out for this kind of thing. You’d think the park service could at least have one person working there on such a busy weekend.

IMG_0458Back on the bike, I finally made it out of the park and I also crossed my second state line of this trip. I was glad to put Wyoming behind me. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Montana before, so that’s a milestone as well. The town of West Yellowstone is as bad a tourist town as I’ve seen (keep in mind I grew up in Las Vegas). One night tent camping at a campground was almost $30! I paid it though because I badly needed a shower (my last one was two days ago) and to do some laundry. I also bought a shorter stem for my bike. I’m hoping that will help with the sore hands and back I’ve been having.

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Day 10: Yellowstone

Posted by Alan on 29th June 2007

39.95 mi.

I woke up early for a change today. I’m not sure what time it was, but the sun wasn’t up yet. I had a big breakfast of cold cereal (we found some non-refrigerated soy milk in the small store by the lodge) and took a few photos of the Teton mountains in the morning light. I wasn’t feeling well, so I crawled back into my sleeping bag for a little more sleep.

I woke up a bit later when Rick and Ursula were getting up. They ate their cereal while I packed up my gear. We walked up to the lodge to use their internet computers and then I bid farewell and rode north towards Yellowstone. It felt almost like my original farewell when I left Ft. Collins and waved goodbye to my friend Tracy. Was that really only ten days ago?

I met several other cyclists while biking today. I stopped to chat briefly with each group or single rider. Travelling alone now, I need to get my interaction with fellow cyclists when I can. :)

IMG_0404I made it to Lewis Lake Campground in Yellowstone. It was only a forty mile ride, but I’d heard this is a nice, small campground, so I don’t mind cutting the ride short today. I made an early dinner and studied maps of Yellowstone and Montana. I’m hoping to make an early start tomorrow so I can avoid some of the pre 4th of July traffic.

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Day 9: Into Teton

Posted by Alan on 28th June 2007

18.77 mi.

IMG_0392This morning was another late start. I cooked up some oatmeal, but Rick and Ursula wanted to hit the road to get away from the bugs, so they left before me. I leave an hour or so after them and right off the bat I have to ride through six miles of rough dirt road through a construction zone. Good thing we didn’t try to ride through this last night when we were tired and hungry.

IMG_0385I come upon Rick and Ursula right away. They have just finished breakfast and are talking with another bike tourist. I think he’s from Spain and he shows us a great photo on his digital camera of a bear sniffing around his campsite in Grand Teton. I buy a few groceries ($5 for a one pound package of fig newtons! Can you say “highway robbery”?) and we hit the road. Before long we’re entering Grand Teton National Park and we stop to take our photo at the entrance sign.

IMG_0399We stop for lunch just inside the park before continuing on to the Signal Mountain Campground. It’s still early though, so after we setup our tents, we walk down to adjacent Jackson Lake for a swim. The water is quite cold, but it’s warm and sunny outside so we don’t mind too much. We kill some time looking for interesting stones on the beach and trying to skip some stones across the water. It’s amazing how still the lake is. I’ll upload photos of this, but you’ve got to see it in person. It’s really quite stunning.

Hunger sets in again so we walk over to the nearby lodge for a large dinner. It’s our last dinner together since they are staying in Grand Teton another night, but I’ll be riding into Yellowstone tomorrow.

A little while after dinner, I put away a pint of ice cream while Ursula goes over various routes we could take through Montana to Glacier National Park. She seems a little worried for me to be continuing on my own, but I’ve got a lot of ground to cover yet. It’s been great traveling with them the past week and it will be more lonely without them, that’s for sure.

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Day 8: Mountains & Trees!

Posted by Alan on 27th June 2007

44.25 mi.

IMG_0371After too many days of flat scenery and scrub brush, we’ll finally get into some mountains today. We leave Dubois a bit late. None of us are eager to sit our sore butts on our bike saddles this morning. I use the campground wi-fi to upload a couple blog posts and then leave to catch up with Rick and Ursula. I want to try riding at my own pace a bit today to see how my legs feel. I know I’ll have to part ways from Rick and Ursula after Yellowstone at the latest. They’re planning to go at a much slower pace than me. I need to be in Alaska by the time they’ll just be getting to Banff National Park in Canada.

We run into some construction on the way to Togwotee Pass and reluctantly agree to a ride in a truck the 6 miles through the construction area. (The construction worker could have dropped us a mile earlier, but we let him take us as far as he is allowed.)

I make it to the top of Togwotee Pass (9658 feet) and stop for a photo. I’ve crossed the continental divide a few times already in the past week, but that was always below 7500 feet or so. This is the first time I feel that the accomplishment merits a photo. Rick and Ursula catch up and we stop for lunch in a spot with a great view. It is so nice to be back in the mountains.

Going down the other side of the pass, we enjoy the easy downhill and I’m amazed at a few stretches where the tall pine trees crowd right up to the road. We can also catch glimpses of the Teton mountains in the distance through the trees.

We don’t quite make it as far as Grand Teton Natl. Park before we stop to make camp. I’m really tired tonight and the mosquitoes are very annoying. My long pants, long sleeves and head net keep them from biting for the most part, but their constant swarming around my head is quite frustrating. Maybe I’ll need to start using my deet before long.

After going to bed, we heard some wolves howling and barking in the distance. Very cool!

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Day 7: Good Wind!

Posted by Alan on 26th June 2007

78.16 mi.

IMG_0342 We’re up before the sun again. It’s a chilly morning, but the scenery is an improvement over the sagebrush bleakness of the past few days. (At one point I was wondering if folks in Wyoming have many words for “bleak landscape” like the Eskimos have many words for “snow”.)

IMG_0344It’s a little frustrating that I’m not making faster progress yet, but I know I’ll get more used to the biking and hopefully will be able to increase my daily mileage soon. In the meantime, I’m lucky to be riding with a couple people who are easy to get along with and who help distract me from the pain of biking in headwinds and bleak landscapes. It’s even easy to share meals with Rick and Ursula because we’re all vegetarians. So there’s no time when they want to hit a steakhouse and I’m stuck with PB&J, for example.

IMG_0355_crop.jpgAt one point today we stop to take pictures of some horses in front of Crowheart Butte. We whistle loudly at the horses to get their attention, and surprisingly, they start to run towards us! Our whistling must have sounded familiar, but once they catch sight of us they stop and run in another direction. It made for some nice photos of the running horses though. Look for those photos in the near future. Oh, and speaking of great photos. Rick and Ursula have some amazing photos from their earlier travels in Utah and Arizona. They even have pics of one lizard eating another lizard! I’ll post a link to their journal when I can.

Towards the end of the day, we actually luck into a tailwind (the weather forecast was right!) and we roll into Dubois, WY (pronounced dew-boys by locals) after a 75 mile day. I’m a little surprised at the number of tourists in this tiny town. It reminds me of Vegas with all its tourists. I’m fearing Yellowstone will be a nightmare of tourists and RVs. We stop in a local eatery for dinner and then decide to share a campsite at the local KOA campground (which is full of yelling kids and monstrous RVs). I guess I should have planned better and not come through the Yellowstone area the weekend before the 4th of July. Oh well, live and learn!

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Day 6: Rest and Re-supply

Posted by Alan on 25th June 2007

5 mi.

IMG_0338Rick, Ursula and I have a big day planned for our day off the bikes in Lander, WY. We’ve decided we’ll ride through the night if that’s what it takes to avoid those damnable headwinds. Oh, and be assured I’ve used more “colorful” language when yelling at the wind in the past several days. Unfortunately the wind is unmoved no matter how I try to bargain with or berate him.

Anyway, back to our day off. We have errands to run around town before our all-nighter on the bikes. We start at the health food store where I pick up some natural bug repellent (I have deet, but don’t want to use it unless absolutely neccesary) and a smoothie. Then it’s over to the bike shop where I get new bar tape to pad my handlebars better. My hands have been getting pretty sore and I might need to get a shorter stem if the extra padding doesn’t help. Then we head to the library to use the computers and internet access. I can’t seem to get any photos uploaded, so you’ll have to wait a few more days for new images.

While on the internet, we check the weather to see what the wind will be like during the night and into tomorrow. It actually turns out the winds might be more favorable tomorrow than tonight, so we decide to simply wake up early tomorrow rather than bike all night.

Next, we hit the grocery store to stock up on food (I buy what seems like too much, but it will be gone before I know it). We finally roll over to the Lander city park (thanks to Andy, a local cyclist who shows us the way). We’ve heard they allow overnight camping there. When we arrive we see that they’re setting up for an evening concert. So we are serenaded with some swing music as we setup camp and make dinner.

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Day 5: No More Wyoming, Please!

Posted by Alan on 24th June 2007

60 mi.

IMG_0331.JPGIMG_0332.JPGThis middle stretch of Wyoming continues to be a struggle. We woke up before the sun so we could try to get some miles in before the winds pick up in the afternoon. The mosquitoes are horrible in Jeffrey City (just another reason to put that “city” behind us). We were on the road by about 5:15 and we got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise behind us as we pedalled west. I’ll post a pic or two when I can, but I’m sure the photos won’t convey how beautiful it was in person. Unfortunately, the winds picked up earlier than expected and we were fighting headwinds again all afternoon. At one point we were going down about a 3% grade and we had to pedal just to keep rolling. By the time we made it to Lander, WY we were tired and the three of us agreed to take a rest day tomorrow and we also decided to split a motel room for the night. I know, I know, less than a week on the road and I’m already going soft by staying in a motel. We got into town, pigged out in a restaurant and checked into our motel. After taking turns showering, we laid down for a “nap” which turned into a three hour snoozefest. When we all woke up we went out to eat again. Yes, it’s never a bad time to eat for a touring cyclist. Even those of you who are familiar with my ability to put away food would be impressed with how much I’m eating while on this trip.

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Day 4: A Good Bad Day

Posted by Alan on 23rd June 2007

70 mi.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t know what the heck I was thinking by riding my bike across Wyoming. I should have had someone drop me off in Yellowstone. The winds here make it miserable for biking most of the time. The next time I see this state will be through a windshield at a high rate of speed!

IMG_0322.JPGWhew! Thanks for letting me vent, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the nice beginning of the day. I woke up very early to have breakfast and break camp. I didn’t want to miss a chance to ride with these other cyclists. I ended up leaving camp a little bit behind Rick & Ursula, but caught up with them before we were out of Rawlins. We rode and talked a bit during the morning until we stopped at a place called Grandma’s Cafe. Grandma wasn’t working, but a couple of her teenage grandkids made us some lunch. Bernd & Oris got there about the same time and we all sat down to lunch together. Another bike tourist coming the opposite direction stopped to eat and he joined us as well. We asked him questions about conditions ahead and he told us where to find water and where the mosquitoes were particularly bad.

IMG_0329We got back on our bikes, loaded down with full bellies, and proceeded north. Eventually we had to turn west, and that’s when the day went downhill. The inevitable afternoon headwinds kicked in and we fought those bloody winds for about three hours before we got into Jeffrey City, WY.

The only good thing I can say about Jeffrey City is that we met some really nice folks there. Just as we rode into town, a woman came out of the one bar/cafe in town and offered to buy a beer for the three of us (Bernd and Oris had passed us long ago). It turns out this woman (Cydna) was driving an RV while her husband (Skip) rode his bike across the country on the Adventure Cycling Association trans-America route. Kelley, a young woman from New Hampshire, was sharing the journey with them. We sat and talked with them for a while and eventually they made the mistake of offering to let us use the shower in their RV to clean up. Well, that’s not the kind of offer we could pass up, so we took advantage of their hospitality and soon had washed the dust of that painful day from our tired bodies.

We’ll be getting up early tomorrow to try and get as many miles in before the afternoon headwinds pick up. It could have been a horrible day, but thanks to a good start and some kindness from strangers, it continues to be a fun journey.

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Day 3: Meeting Other Tourists

Posted by Alan on 22nd June 2007

44.97 miles

IMG_0327.JPGSince I didn’t have to pay anything to camp on the lawn of the Hanna, WY rec center, I decided to splurge a bit on breakfast. I rode across the street to Carol’s Country Cupboard for a large and tasty breakfast. I was even waited on by Carol herself. It was a great small town place where all the locals said ‘hi’ and a nice old couple asked me about my trip.

Properly re-fueled, I headed back out to highway 287 towards Rawlins, WY. 287 eventually met up with interstate 80 at which point I stopped next to a gas station to re-fill my water bottles. Just as I was about to get back on my bike, around the corner of the building appeared two bike tourists riding fully loaded bikes. Bernd is german and Oris is american. They’re riding across the U.S. from East to West. I followed them to Rawlins and we all ended up at the same campground where we met two other bike tourists. Rick & Ursula started in Phoenix and are riding north hitting as many national parks as they can.

I had assumed before leaving Denver that I would meet plenty of other cyclists on this trip. It’s nice to see I wasn’t mistaken. We’re all headed the same direction tomorrow, so I’m sure I’ll see more of these folks in the miles ahead.

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Day 2: The Wind Sucks

Posted by Alan on 21st June 2007

79.66 miles

I know, you’re thinking “no, Alan, the wind blows“. Well, today it did nothing but blow in my face, which sucks! I had four different choices of roads to take between Laramie and Rawlins, WY and I think I chose the route with the most wind. US 287 north from Laramie was a nice road at first because it has very little traffic and nice views (and a fair number of antelope). Once the wind picked up though, it became a painful lesson in how miserable riding into a headwind all day can be.

IMG_0310And then, just as I was about to turn off 287 and head south towards I-80 (yes, I was willing to deal with interstate traffic if it meant less headwind), a nice man in the general store of Rock River, WY told me to stay on 287 because it was much flatter than I-80. Well, let’s just say I came up with a rather insulting song about that poor advice when I was still fighting headwinds a few hours later. I shouldn’t fault him too much though. Not being a cyclist, he probably doesn’t realize that the wind can often be more troublesome than hills. At least with hills you get to coast down the other side. You never get such a reward after fighting a headwind.

Ok, enough about the wind. I finally made it to a little town called Hanna, WY. A nice lady at the marshal’s office recommended I ask about camping on the lawn of the rec center, which I did. So I’m now sitting in my tent while the sprinklers “rain” on my tent. Oh well, it’s free camping and a shower at the rec center was only $3. A much better deal than the KOA campground last night, I’d say.

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